India vs Australia: Into the diary of batting coach Vikram Rathour

Rathour opens up on the historic series, Rishabh Pant's rise and ensures there is nothing wrong with Prithvi Shaw's technique.

Batting coach Vikram Rathour played an important role as India scripted history by winning the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1 in Australia.   -  PTI

From being 36 all out inside 21.2 overs to surviving 131 overs in the fourth innings — the Indian batsmen had a soul-searching workshop in the tour of Australia. They achieved nirvana in Brisbane by chasing down 328 to clinch the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2-1; this time, in the presence of David Warner and Steve Smith.

India batting coach Vikram Rathour did not lose heart in the middle of the storm. He believed in his process and backed the players.

In a chat with Sportstar, Rathour threw light on the preparation for the tour Down Under that started in July 2020, the curious case of Rishabh Pant and his thoughts on the upcoming series against England.

Would you call this the most impactful series that you have seen in your cricketing journey so far?

Definitely, playing against Australia which is one of the top teams in the world, in Australia. To top it up with the injuries that we had, the start we had, it was spectacular to come back, do well and end up winning the series. It was special.

Talk us through the preparation leading to the series.

The support staff started having the discussions during the COVID-19 lockdown. I had a discussion with our head coach Ravi Shastri. We thought that was the time to start some kind of a process with the players. To put right thoughts into their mind for the Australia series. On the batting side, I worked with our analyst Hari Prasad who works with SportsMechanics.

We had a long discussion on what we wanted to share with the boys. There were individual presentations for every batter, the kind of bowling they have faced in the last two series in Australia, their scoring areas etc. We just gave them a plan looking at all that. Then, of course, there was a discussion about the areas - short ball or any other area, what would be their plan to handle that? We told them the things we wanted them to work on.

And what was it after Adelaide 36?

Nothing changed to be very honest. That was the trick. The coaches did not allow anything to change. We genuinely believed we had prepared well. We had spent a lot of time in Australia during the quarantine in the COVID situation. The Test batters were having good net sessions from the beginning. Adelaide was a one-off incident. You couldn't really explain what happened. The message to the players was that they needed to believe in their methods and not let doubts creep in. We didn't really react to Adelaide.

Your thoughts on Ajinkya Rahane's soft-touch, classy old-school Test match knock in Melbourne. What was your input?

A lot of players believe they play in a certain way. Our input has been that 'listen, you need to play for the team, depending on the conditions and how the opposition is bowling'. Ajinkya did that superbly that day. He really got into the game and he understood what he needed to do for the team. We needed him to play a big knock. 

Run us through your emotions in Sydney and Brisbane. Most Indians were on the verge of a heart-attack when Rishabh Pant was batting...

As coaches, one realisation comes to you that you are helpless when a live game is on. You really can't do anything when people are batting inside. It is for the players to perform. Your work is done before the game starts. It is human nature to contribute here and there, you want to send messages. But batters have their own plans and ideas. You can provide suggestions.

Rishabh Pant and batting coach Vikram Rathour during a training session. (File Photo)   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

We know how Rishabh bats. He is an aggressive player who wants to score runs which is fine, that's what we want him to do. We always wanted him to bring in a bit of discipline and a game-plan involved where he plays his shots but picks the right balls to play those shots. I think he is getting better at it. We always believed he was a match-winner on his day. These two games proved our point.

What's your message to all the batsmen overall?

Batting is about scoring runs. You need to find a way to score runs. How you do it, with your game plan, is something you need to back. You need to back your strengths and take the right decisions at the right time.

What was the talk before Day 5 at the Gabba?

We thought we would play normal cricket as long as we could. It was still a good surface where the wicket was playing pretty well. A few balls went up and down but if you get out to a ball like that, not to worry. We thought we would see where we stand at tea after playing out the sessions. Shubman Gill played a superb knock. Cheteshwar Pujara batted really well and then Rishabh took over. We knew the game was on.

Your thoughts on R. Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari's Sydney resistance. Rishabh at No. 5...

On day five, the thought was that if we bat well, we can win. Rishabh had started well. His knock put us in the game. Sending him at No. 5 was being discussed for quite some time. We wanted to send in a left-hander. Ravi bhai had a strong belief that left-handers are required as the Australians don't bowl that well to left-handers.

Rishabh scored in the 20s and 30s in the earlier games but we could sense a change of momentum whenever he went in. Ravindra Jadeja had done well in Melbourne. So we decided to send Rishabh at No. 5 in Sydney. We knew we could win till Vihari pulled his hamstring. Ashwin already had a stiff back and Jadeja had a broken thumb. That is when we decided that draw is the best option. Vihari was batting well throughout the series but was not able to convert any of his starts. He batted with a lot of character in Sydney despite the injury.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari scrapped their way through and helped India earn a draw in Sydney.   -  Getty Images

 

We all knew Ashwin had a lot of potential as a batsman. He is somebody who can definitely bat and score runs. He has been a little lost in the last couple of years, and this was a promising knock to make a comeback.

Are the lower-order batsmen spending a bit more time at the nets?

Lower-order batting was an area of concern and we have been discussing this since I joined the team. We wanted to improve in that area and I still feel we can get much better. There has been a concerted effort to hand them as much as batting we can. Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar were initially net bowlers but they have been batting, too. We had people for throwdowns. They were batting for 25 to 30 minutes everyday. That helped eventually, isn't it? When the time came and we needed them to bat, they stitched the most important partnership in the series. 

Can Hardik Pandya be purely used as a batsman in the Test series against England since he hasn't been bowling in recent times?

That's a decision the head coach and the captain need to take. Can he bat? Of course, he can but I wouldn't be able to comment on his selection purely as a batsman.

What will be the key to do well against England with James Anderson doing well in the sub-continent recently.

They have a really good bowling attack with three seamers and even the spinners, such as Dom Bess, are looking good. I am more focused on how we are going to bat and what our plans are going to be. Like any other series, we have started preparations looking at our batters and the areas they play, and what to expect from the English bowling attack. Then, we will discuss the game plans we can have against them. We need to do our thing right.

How challenging will it be for Prithvi Shaw to make a comeback? People are talking a lot about his technique. Do you feel there is anything wrong?

He just had a poor series, a poor Test match. Nobody has the perfect technique and when you fail, people want to find out the reasons. A lot of people have been putting it on his technique. Technique is the easiest thing to blame. Does he need to work on his technique? Of course, not only him, everybody needs to work on their technique throughout their playing careers. You are always looking to get better. Prithvi is working hard on his fitness along with minor technical adjustments. He is still one of the promising young batters for the Indian team and I believe he will make a comeback pretty soon.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :